Designs to Reshape Humanity: Integrity and Cunning in the Anthropocene

Ann Light


A timely, important book from one of the world’s foremost design scholars, it will prove to be a valuable addition to curriculum in design education programs and will be of interest to anyone concerned with design (in its broadest sense) for the 21st century. There is no better time for a book that synthesizes the ideas and experiences that the author has amassed over the last 2 decades. Through a mixture of thought-provocations, practical examples, and theoretical perspectives and ideas, the book proposes to engage and inspire design researchers, practitioners, students, and indeed anyone concerned about the future of life on our planet and curious about the possibilities for humans to intervene and make a positive difference on our journey into an uncertain future. Drawing on her wealth of practical and theoretical experience, and her clear-headed and yet optimistic style of writing and designed to be accessible to a broad audience of both specialists and non-specialists, the book will have wide public appeal.

—Dr. Sara Heitlinger, Centre for Human Computer Interaction Design, City, University of London

The huge strength of this book is its timeliness. The book as proposed will weave together several threads that have been developing in recent years both from established inter-disciplinary links as well as from emerging connections, particularly around prefigurative politics and alternative models for governance and collective action. Ambitious in its scope, it will provide an excellent focal point for use in the classroom and a touchstone for future scholarship. Both the fields of human-computer interaction (HCI) and of design practice and research, will greatly benefit from the author’s clarity and cross-disciplinary insights. An established voice in both fields, particularly within the circles of researchers focused on issues of sustainability and the relationship between technology, design, and humanities stewardship of the environment, her thought leadership has long been recognized and admired in the field of HCI and in design research.

—Christopher Le Dantec; Georgia Institute of Technology

Designing has got us into this mess. Now we need to make a path through it. If design is a human birthright, as Ann Light argues, it is time to turn the practice on ourselves.

Exploring human beings’ capacity for transformation, Designs to Reshape Humanity offers a vision of cultural renewal for our times, based on openness to change. Informal in tone yet rigorous in content, this is an argument to reject the hierarchies of control that have shaped modern cultures and to rethink relations with other species and how we handle uncertainty, set in the context of the desire for meaning and fulfillment. As much a celebration of human cunning and creative energy as a call for radical change, the book acknowledges our damaged habitats and the dark times we find ourselves in, but also the potential in each of us when we work together to negotiate alternative futures for humanity and the planet.

Written by a professor of design, who has specialized in working collaboratively with people on futures and exploring the technology in our lives, it proposes that, rather than advocating technical “quick fixes” or expecting people to accept privation, the most productive path ahead will be finding new sources of connection and care in responding creatively to the challenges facing us.

This book never shies away awkward realities, presenting guidance for making tools of cultural transition and the shift from designing for civilization to designing for its graceful disassembly.

Ann Light is Professor of Design and Creative Technology at the University of Sussex, UK, and Professor of Interaction Design in Sustainability and Social Change at Malmö University, Sweden. A qualitative researcher specializing in design for social wellbeing, participatory design and social innovation, she has worked with arts and grass-roots organizations and marginalized groups on five continents, using co-design methods, with an interest in creative practice for transformations to sustainability. She also brings 10 years’ professional experience from the design sector, with qualifications in humanities, arts, artificial intelligence and computer science.